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Cultural Tourism Proves Break-Out Break Option at Guangzhou Expo

With the mainland tourism market maturing even as it expands, exhibitors at the Guangzhou International Tourism Fair had on offer a sophisticated palette of travel options, including cultural breaks, study tours and youthful getaways.

Photo: Tangible tourism assets on show: The Guangzhou Intangible Cultural Heritage Hall.
Tangible tourism assets on show: The Guangzhou Intangible Cultural Heritage Hall.
Photo: Tangible tourism assets on show: The Guangzhou Intangible Cultural Heritage Hall.
Tangible tourism assets on show: The Guangzhou Intangible Cultural Heritage Hall.

Visitors to the dedicated Culture and Lifestyle Tourism Zone at this year's Guangzhou International Tourism Fair were treated to a cavalcade of colourful performances, all designed to showcase iconic aspects of Cantonese civilisation – including its traditional teas, characteristic etiquette, opera and cuisine. It wasn't all about local heritage, however, with Beijing, Nanjing, Wuhan, Chengdu, Ningbo, Qiannan and several other tourist-friendly locales also taking the opportunity to promote their cultural allure.

Over in the Guangzhou Intangible Cultural Heritage Hall, meanwhile, other traditional aspects of local life were on show, including Kwon-glazed porcelain, olive-stone sculptures, Guangdong embroidery, redwood lanterns, lion dancing, the Lingnan guqin, classic cake moulds, copper-hammered artworks and wood carvings. Nearby, in the Lingnan Guqin exhibition space, Li Yuehong, a teacher at the Lingnan Tianhong Guqin School, performed and looked to introduce this classic seven-stringed instrument to showgoers. Since it opened its doors in 1999, the school has looked to revive and nurture interest in this classic Chinese take on the zither, while also manufacturing new instruments and offering a repair and maintenance service for older models.

A keen advocate of the cultural tourism concept, Li said: "Demand for cultural tourism continues to grow every year. Today, many travellers prefer to extend their stay in their chosen destinations, giving themselves time to visit nearby markets, chat with the locals and find out more about the region's customs and the indigenous way of life. This integration of tourism and culture is great for the hospitality industry as well as for travellers."

Another firm believer in the value of cultural tourism was Jiang Ziyang, a Senior Executive with PainterQ, a Guangzhou-based supplier of original artworks. At present, the company is partnering with a number of leading Guangzhou businesses as it looks to use its range of hand-painted illustrations as a means of boosting the local tourism sector.

It has already met with particular success in this area with its Yi Cheng Yi Hui (One City One Painting) illustrated travel guide. As well as highlighting Guangzhou's most popular tourist attractions, the guide also has sections dedicated to Ximenkou, the Zhujiang New Town, the Hakka Village, Huangsha, Gongyuanqian, Dongshankou and the Martyrs' Cemetery.

Photo: Traditional weaving: A study trip option.
Traditional weaving: A study trip option.
Photo: Traditional weaving: A study trip option.
Traditional weaving: A study trip option.
Photo: PainterQ’s hand-painted tourism posters.
PainterQ's hand-painted tourism posters.
Photo: PainterQ’s hand-painted tourism posters.
PainterQ's hand-painted tourism posters.

Since 2012, PainterQ has exhibited many of its promotional artworks at metro stations throughout Guangzhou, looking to both showcase various aspects of local culture and build awareness of newly opened metro routes. Similarly, when the Fortune Global Forum was held in Guangzhou in 2017, the company's illustrations were on show at many of the nearby metro stations and were seen as a key way of piquing the interest of overseas business visitors and persuading them to explore the region's tourism resources.

Summarising his view on the sector, Jiang said: "In my opinion, cultural tourism represents a great opportunity for the travel and hospitality industries. It's something that the major players in the sector really ought to address more seriously."

Younger, Year-Round Tourism

One thing that was widely noted at this year's event was that domestic tourism is no longer restricted to the traditional holiday periods, with off-peak travel and out-of-season vacationing becoming ever-more popular. In addition, younger consumers, many of whom are keen travellers, were acknowledged as the new dominant force in the sector.

Looking to capitalise on both of these dynamics was Guangzhou Chenggang Tourism & Development. In line with this, the company opted to highlight a number of its leisure packages at this year's event, including a traditional Pearl River cruise, a Pearl River-Guangzhou TV Tower cruise and its Pearl River Red Boat. According to Zeng Xingyang, a member of the company's Business Development Team, the operator now offers its cruise packages on a year-round basis in response to growing demand from domestic tourists.

Emphasising the role cultural tourism plays in the company's cruise itineraries, Zeng said: "Our Red Boat-Boat Story package, for instance, combines a theatrical performance with a night cruise and has proved hugely popular. Essentially, the Red Boat is a floating theatre. Once tourists get on board, they can watch an opera while cruising the Pearl River."

Many younger travellers, however, are said to have their sights set on the delights of international travel rather than restricting themselves solely to domestic options. Acknowledging this, Liu Zhaomin, a Sales Representative with the Beijing office of Sami International Travel, a Scandinavian tour operator, said there was growing interest in its package trips to the northern European peninsula, even during the coldest winter months.

Expanding on this trend, he said: "In addition to booking one of our popular winter packages, large numbers of mainland tourists are also visiting Scandinavia in other seasons. Travelling has become the new normal and the number of young tourists is definitely on the rise."

Photo: Niche carvings: An exceptional excursion experience.
Niche carvings: An exceptional excursion experience.
Photo: Niche carvings: An exceptional excursion experience.
Niche carvings: An exceptional excursion experience.
Photo: Flower power: Botanical breaks showcased.
Flower power: Botanical breaks showcased.
Photo: Flower power: Botanical breaks showcased.
Flower power: Botanical breaks showcased.

Study Tours

Apart from cultural tourism, year-round vacationing and the growing significance of a younger demographic, study tours were also seen as a potentially lucrative emerging sector by many exhibitors at the event. One company looking to take a lead here was the Helsinki-headquartered Kylin Travel Group.

Outlining the success the company was finding in this area, Du Shanshan, a Sales Representative based in the operator's Shanghai office, said: "We now offer a wide range of Scandinavian study tours, with our extended stays in Denmark or Finland having proved particularly popular.

"In the case of the latter, we offer one-month study courses, short-term architectural courses, VIP meetings with Santa and cooking lessons with Michelin-starred chefs.

"We can also arrange for mainland students to study at local Finnish public schools. There they can join local students and take lessons in English, woodwork, handicrafts or music. We can also arrange parental education courses or parent-child relationship coaching by Finnish education experts. In the case of a family visit to Scandinavia, we can arrange for the children to attend local schools, freeing the parents to either study themselves or go sight-seeing."

Far and Near

Amid the myriad tours and excursions on offer at the event, it was something of a challenge for many exhibitors to make their own offerings stand out. Despite this, three operators – Canada's Ctour Holidays and two mainland-based companies, Suzhou Watertown Jinxi Tourism Development and Shaoguan Palace International Resorts – managed to attract particular attention.

British Columbia-headquartered Ctour offered a slate of excursions to the US and Canada, including immersive travel packages, luxury experiences, wine-tasting courses and rail explorer options. With its tours designed to appeal to as broad a range of mainland travellers as possible, each option was said to be geared towards different aspects of North America's natural wonders and cultural experiences.

Focusing more on the joys of domestic travel, Suzhou Watertown Jinxi Tourism Development unveiled a selection of local thematic tourism packages at the event. Among the more intriguing was a visit to a museum said to be a repository of more than 2,300 items of classic building materials.

Looking to combine cultural and wellness tourism, meanwhile, Shaoguan Palace International Resorts was attending the expo to promote its various Yunxi Valley hot-spring packages. The resort, set in the southwestern Sichuan province, is famous for the therapeutic qualities of its hot and cold springs, while also offering easy access to the more than 40 natural outdoor pools scattered across the valley.

Photo: Getting away from it wall: Cut-price cruises and half-price holidays wow attendees.
Getting away from it wall: Cut-price cruises and half-price holidays wow attendees.
Photo: Getting away from it wall: Cut-price cruises and half-price holidays wow attendees.
Getting away from it wall: Cut-price cruises and half-price holidays wow attendees.

The 2019 Guangzhou International Tourism Fair took place from 21-23 February at the China Import & Export Fair Complex. A total of 1,042 exhibitors from 55 countries and regions were in attendance, including first-time exhibitors from Finland, Venezuela, Iran, Mongolia and Fiji.

Qing Pu, Special Correspondent, Guangzhou

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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